In the United States, 160,000 kids per day skip school for fear of being bullied (US Dept of Justice). 160 thousand. That is 160,000 too many, and that number, in actuality, is higher. Bullying causes serious and lasting problems, and can include making threats, spreading rumors, attacking physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Another statistic from the US Department of Justice: 1 in 3 students have been bullied at school, with the largest percentage of those students being in middle school (6-8). Why? What is it about putting others down that causes a “high” for those doing the bullying? There are no winners in bullying, as studies have found everyone – including the bullier and bystanders – feel physical and mental effects.
1 in 3 Students Are Bullied At School US Department of Justice, 2018
Kid-on-kid bullying is more common than parents want to believe. Have you ever received a call from school that your kid has been in trouble for bullying? Kids tend to use bullying to solve their social problems (Lehman, 2018). It is easier to pick on someone, make fun of someone, or talk behind someone’s back then it is confront problems. Think about it – how many times have you talked about someone behind their back because confronting them was too hard? And we’re adults! We know better!
School is a stressful situation, and kids are going to act out in different ways. When a kid feels threatened, if he or she has learned to use aggression in response to stress, they are going to be more hostile. If the response of the person being bullied is that of fear, the bully has been conditioned that he/she has then “won” and will repeat the behavior.
Unless it is happening to your child, and your child has confided in you, you probably have not given bullying a lot of thought. But where does bullying start? It starts at home. Inconsistent discipline, strained parental relationships, child abuse, low self esteem, and even victims of bullies can all contribute to a child becoming a bully. If a child is suffering from any of these situations, it is vital they have a trusted adult they can talk with.
How to Talk to Kids
I got a call once, when my son was in kindergarten, because he had sat on another boy. What had happened was that the boy pushed a little girl down, and my son then went and sat on the boy. While the principal said he was not concerned about my son being a bully, he still wanted to pull him into the office because it was a conversation that needed to happen. In order for things to not escalate, it is vital to have a conversation early on.
My son has had not problems since that incident. The school district he attends, as many these days, has a strong anti-bullying campaign. They praise kids for speaking up and speaking out when they see bullying. Do you speak to your kid about bullying? Do you encourage your kid to speak out when they see bullying happen – or do you not say anything? Saying nothing and not teaching your kids about bullying means you are also contributing to the problem. It is not solely the school’s responsibility to teach kids how to interact with other kids.
If/when your child has a bullying incident, how do you handle it? Are you angry? Do you punish your child? Or, do you start with a conversation? A conversation is the necessary first step. Ask questions – a lot of questions. A few questions to ask:
What was the situation?
How did that make you feel?
Was there another way you could have handled the situation?
What will you do if something like this happens again?
Don’t overwhelm your kids. They are young, and are at very vulnerable ages where they learn from every situation they find themselves in. How you talk to them is going to impact their lives in so many different areas.
There so many resources out there on how to talk to kids about bullying. Below a few links that can help anyone talk to kids about bullying.
Effects of Bullying
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was the victim of bullying. While I was not physically harmed, the damage that was done mentally is astounding. I did not realize how much bullying affected my character until I was in therapy almost 20 years later.
I went from being a happy, confident child to a quiet, introverted, anxious child. Not knowing when the next insult is going to be hurled my way, or if trying to make a new friend is going to result in yet another kid making fun of me, is exhausting. Having to constantly be on my toes and worried about what people are thinking and saying about me caused me to not want to make new friends. It caused me to not want to go to a birthday party or try something new. It changed the course of my life.
I was so embarrassed about what was happening that I refused to tell anyone. I thought no one would believe me, or that I was being a “rat.” I thought that if I told someone that I was being made fun of, called names, and treated poorly by other students, the treatment would only get worse. It hurts me to this day to know that I should have stood up for myself. But I didn’t, and I let the bullies win.
What Can You Do?
What can you do to help kids who are struggling with bullying? First and foremost, talk to your own kids. Ensure they know what effects bullying has on other kids, and that you are a safe person to talk with if they feel they are being bulled.
Connect with other adults who can be a safe person for your kids to go to if, for some reason, your kids do not feel comfortable talking to you. A trusted teacher, principal, family member or friend are all options.
If you fear your child is a bully, have a conversation with them about that too. In a non-aggressive way, tell them how bullying can effect others, show them stories of kids who have been bullied, show that you care about their well being and their future.
It is going to take a village to teach kids about bullying. With cyberbullying a large issue as well, kids cannot escape the barrage of their bullies – at home, at school, at practice, on the weekends, holidays… the list can go on. The best prevention is education. As an adult, you need to be the proper role model for all of the kids in your life, even if they are not your own. Watch what you say online and in public, when kids can be listening.
You yourself need to be conscious of not bullying. In a subsequent post, we will talk about adult on kid bullying. Be kind to one another, and be a good role model.